It was recess. I was standing under the sycamore tree, feeling woozy. I’d spent too long hanging upside down on the monkey bars. I was just about sure I wasn’t going to ralph when she walked by.
New kid, I didn’t know her name. Parents just moved here from out-of-state. Seemed a friendly, girl. Today she was all sniffles and tears. I hated seeing a girl cry, it took the fun out of recess
“What’s wrong, kid?”
“I lost my cat.”
“It ran away?”
“No,” she sobbed, “not a real cat. A statue, made of porcelain. All white with a little pink bow, playing with a ball of yarn. It was my grandma’s. My parents told me I couldn’t bring it to school but I did anyway ‘cause I wanted to show someone. Only now it’s gone.”
That’s when the water works really got going. I didn’t know what to do, so I tried to sound helpful. “Hold on now… what’s your name anyway?”
“Alright Matilda, I know my way around the schoolyard. Where’d you see it last?”
“Miss Marshall’s class, she made me put it in my cubby. I was gonna get it out to bring it to recess to show it to Jenny. I told her about how cute it was and she begged me to bring it in so she could see it.” She wiped her nose with a sleeve and snorted hard trying to get a hold of herself.
“Which Jenny are you talking about?” There were three Jenny’s in our grade but I was pretty sure I knew which one she was going to say.
Jenny Billings. Everyone in our grade called her Miss Kitty, and she didn’t mind it either. Everything she owned had cats on it. From her Hello Kitty back pack to the homework folder printed with glossy pictures of kittens all over it. Kids said she even brought her own bandaids from home. So she didn’t have to wear the plain ones the nurse handed out when she scraped a knee. We never really got to be friends, mostly because I liked dogs.
I found her by the slide. She got all snooty when I asked he about the cat.
“Matilda told me about her kitty statue. It sounded so cute. I asked her to bring it in for me to see. She never showed it to me though. She said she couldn’t find it, that it got lost or something. I couldn’t tell she was too busy crying. I don’t even think she really brought it in. Maybe she just made it up so I’d be friends with her,. New kids are always telling lies so people will like them, but I don’t make friends with just anyone you know. They have to love kitties as much as I do.”
“C’mon Jenny, you sure you ain’t seen it. I bet you’d do anything to get your hands on a thing like that. Matilda says you begged her to bring it in.”
“I never begged.” she put her fists on her hips and huffed. “She said she’d show it to me and that’s all. Besides, I haven’t been anywhere near Miss Marshall’s class today.”
I could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere with Miss Kitty, so I headed off back to the shade tree where Matilda was waiting. She looked so hopeful when she saw me coming. That look went away when I told her that Jenny was a dead end. I even check with my friend Jimmy, the hall monitor. He hadn’t seen Jenny on that side of the school all morning.
“So it’s gone, forever?” The tears welled up again and she started to wail.
I never could stand to watch another kid go all rubbery. So, I made faces at her till she couldn’t help but laugh, and she slugged me in the arm to get me to stop.
“Look, Matty, it that bad yet. Think, when did you check on it last?”
“Just before reading.”
“Do you stay in Miss Marshall’s for that?”
“No, I have reading in Mrs. Dillard’s room.”
“And, that’s right before lunch right? So now all we got to do is think of someone who stays in Miss Marshall’s for reading. They might have seen if someone took it.”
“You really think someone stole my porcelain cat?”
“I doubt it walked away. Now who do you think might have seen something?”
“Jeremy,” she said excitedly, “and his desk is towards the back. You can see the cubbies from there.”
Jeremy Reynolds, was the type of kid that would eat just about anything if you promised him whatever you had lying around in your pocket. Especially if it meant grossing out a few of the other kids. He always drew a crowd. I waited for him to stop chewing before I walked up.
“You’ve got reading with Miss Marshall. You see anyone messing around over by the cubbies today?”
“Why should I tell you?” A smile crept across his face “I mean, what’s it worth?”
I didn’t like some schoolyard sideshow trying to get smart, so I got mean with him.
“Listen doofus, I ain’t got all recess. If you know something helpful, there’s a couple of Garbage Pail Kid cards in it. But, if you keep messin’ around the next thing this playground is gonna watch you eat is a knuckle sandwich.”
Jeremy swallowed hard. “Mickey, Mickey Donnelly. I don’t know about cubbies but, he kept getting up to sharpen his pencil, three or four times. Teacher fussed at him.”
“That’s it? That’s all you saw?” I turned to walk away, “Thanks for nothing.”
“What about those cards.”
“I said two cards if you could help, and you can’t. You’re lucky I don’t give you a wedgie for wasting my time. Tell you what here’s one for your trouble, now scram.”
I found Matilda over by the merry-go-round. Poor thing, she thought that if she got dizzy enough her problems would just fly away. I couldn’t blame her. We’ve all taken a few extra spins when the chips were down. I sat on the edge of it with her as it spun to a stop, and told her that Jeremy didn’t know anything.
“Maybe he took it?”
“Nah, he might be a greedy, bug-eating creep but, he’s too much of a fraidy cat to steal something.”
“So, there’s nothing else we can do?”
“We can not use the same pencils as Mickey Donnelly.”
“Jeremy said he kept getting up to sharpen his.” That’s when it hit me. The thing that didn’t add up. “Wait a minute who needs to sharpen a pencil three times when you’re just reading?”
“My cubby is right under the pencil sharpener” Her eyes widened with hope.
“Come on Matty, Recess is almost over.”
We bolted across the playground. Mickey was the tallest kid in our grade, it wasn’t had to spot him at the sandpit, hanging out with his knuckle head friends. They liked to act like they owned that place. Jenny Billings was there too. The sandbox seemed a rough place for little Miss Kitty .
“Fancy seeing you here Jenny”
Jenny stuck her nose in the air and looked away. “Mickey and I are old friends.”
“Friends? Sure, you both like cats. Maybe porcelain ones?”
“Go away before I pound you runt” Mickey slammed his fist into his own open hand.
“You’re not pounding anyone. Give me the cat. We can all walk away. No one gets in trouble. You don’t want to get into trouble do you Mickey?”
Mickey lunged forward swinging. I was used to dealing with angry oafs from being punched on by older brothers. I stepped aside and stuck my foot out. Mickey tripped and fell over catching a mouthful of sand.
Something white tumbled out of his pocket, the soft ground breaking its fall.
Jenny grabbed it and started to back away..
“Give it here Jenny, we can all just go back to class.”
“No,” She screamed. “The kitty is mine now.”
I started to move towards her but Mickey had got back to his feet. He grabbed me, throwing me to the ground. I tried to roll away but he landed his knee on top of me. This is where I get clobbered, I thought, shutting my eyes.
There was a shrill sound and everything stopped. Hall monitor Jimmy came running up with Coach Davis waddling behind him tweeting on his whistle. Mickey got off me and just sat in the sand. He knew the drill. Jenny didn’t, she turned and ran.
Straight into Miss Marshall.
First they tried to blame me. When they couldn’t keep the story straight they blamed each other. It didn’t matter.
Jimmy already told the teachers what was going on, like I asked him.
When the day was over, Matty got her porcelain cat, and the two of them got a trip to the principal’s office.